What’s Yin Yoga?
Settle, Listen, Receive
Most of us have seen, or maybe even done, some yoga poses, working our bodies into various shapes that can be pretty challenging to some, even intimidating to others. The body begins to sweat and burn energy, creating strength and control, and a variety of breath work called pranayama may be included to bring concentration and added balance to energy channels of the body. Music can range from New Age to Pop, with a rhythm or beat to keep the flow of the class moving, or there might be no music at all. Poses might include sitting or lying down twists and stretches toward the end of class as a cool-down.
These classes are what we could call yang yoga classes, working the muscular parts of the body, with a bit of yin-like poses introduced in the end of class for lengthening the warmed muscles. (The warmer the muscles get the more the possibility of overstretching, so the poses for lengthening aren’t held too long in these classes.) People often get a feeling of lightness and renewed energy from the combination of poses in a yoga class, enjoying at the very end a still, reclined pose called sivasana, or corpse pose (everyone’s favorite and a true yin pose). The characteristics used to describe this kind of yoga include strong, challenging, light/bright, active, visible, loud, and warm/hot.
So what’s a yin class then? In a typical yin class the room and the body remain cool; thermometer set to 70 degrees or so, students wear soft layers of clothing for comfort, music is soft, lighting is dim. The muscles aren’t the focus of this practice, but the connective tissue is. Muscles need to be kept cool for the pose to benefit this tissue called fascia that includes bone, tendon, cartilage and the entire web of fascia wrapping around everything inside our body like plastic wrap. The poses are mostly done on the floor and are held for aperiod of time between 2 and 10 minutes, though they look similar to some of the yoga poses you’d find in any yoga class. The characteristics of a yin class are passive, receptive, dark, still, hidden, quiet, cool, and heavy.
Why should we focus on connective tissue? We all know the feeling of stiffness getting out of the car after a long drive, or climbing out of bed after a night’s rest. What has happened is the fascia has gotten a little thicker and tighter, creating adhesions in the joints reminding us to get moving again! Over time the range of motion in our joints can be dramatically reduced from the original factory settings we were born with, and as we age, we loose viscosity of our joint fluid.
Yin yoga can help us return our bodies to functioning at a higher level again. The poses offer steady, slow, gravitational pressure to gradually undo the damage of time and habit. When they are held at an appropriate depth for a period of time, stressing the joints and compressing the tissues, cellular regeneration occurs. The joint capsules develop fibroblasts, creating hyaluronic acid that binds to water to lubricate and reinforce movable parts of the body. Upon releasing the pose, pools of energy are freed up to flow through the body, giving a revitalized feeling of healing.
Yin methodology asks the student to settle into a pose, listen to the body, and receive benefits to the body. To begin, a practitioner will get into a pose slowly, to an appropriate depth, then close the eyes or close to about 90%, release touch and effort of the muscles, and listen inwardly to the rhythms of the gentle breath and heartbeat. Next would come focus of attention on one point to hone the senses. This is called pratyahara and it’s meaning is to gain mastery over external influences. (Imagine a turtle withdrawing into his shell, or a child hiding under the covers.) It is the practice that helps us to just BE, rather than DO, mono-task rather than multi-task, let thoughts, sounds and images move by without disturbing our concentration, called dharana. These aspects of a yin practice can be very healing to the nervous system too.
Yin classes give us the space to get to know the intangible things going on under the surface layer we all can see, to the mental, emotional, and spiritual layers within while benefiting our inner structure, making our foundation sound and supple for our muscles and skin to rest upon.
People begin a yoga practice for many reasons; to become more fit, to bring meditative moments into a hectic life, to heal from an injury that might be either physical or mental in nature. Many of us cannot find the time to be still long enough to feel like we are in our body, let alone connect with and listen to it. Yin helps give us this connection, and once we have established it, we eventually find freedom, becoming unbound or liberated from our bodies, feeling so much better that we figure out how to find more time for yoga!
The Benefits of a Natural Ayurvedic Diet
Ayurveda (pronounced eye-yer-vay-dah) is an ancient medical system in India, spawning from the “Books of Wisdom” known as the Vedas, which are over 5000 years old. It is a sister to Yoga and the two work together hand-in-hand to enable us to live in a harmonic state of wellbeing. The name translates as “life” and “knowledge”. It is a system which recognises that everything on this planet is made up of five elements: fire, earth, water, air, and space, and that there are also three biological energies or mind/body types called doshas: Pitta (fire and water), Kapha (earth and water) and Vata (space and air).
Knowing which one of these three you predominantly are may prove to be highly beneficial to not just the health of your body but your mind also. It should be noted that while quick online tests can help you determine your dosha, a comprehensive session with an ayurvedic practitioner is the most effective way.
According to Ayurveda, when we become disconnected with our natural surrounds and our inner selves, our health suffers. When we become imbalanced our general wellbeing declines and our gut becomes a breeding ground for dis-ease, literally, illness. Once we reconnect with ourselves and nature, we regain balance. If we follow the recommendations of an ayurvedic diet, our bodies become their own doctor, 24/7.
Ayurveda believes our diets should be made up of six “tastes”: sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent. Quite different to a Western way of eating, Ayurveda insists on eating food in the order mentioned above – with sweet foods better to be digested first! Knowing our body type will determine how much of each we need to balance our natural dispositions. Cravings may be caused because one of these tastes are missing from our diets.
If we follow the idea of what we like and dislike and listen to our bodies telling us what we need and don’t need, there’s a fair chance we can achieve the right mix of tastes/food for ourselves. In particular, Ayurveda strongly suggests we really are what we eat – if we eat hamburgers and chips, that’s what we’ll end up as, fatty and greasy!
In general, Kapha types should lean towards warm cooked foods with minimal fats and oils and avoid overly sugary or salty or frozen foods.
Pitta types find balance when they stick to juicy cooling foods with high water content and avoid hot spices, vinegar, alcohol, fried foods, yoghurt and cheese.
Vata types find body harmony with warm, soft oily cooked foods and are best to avoid light, dry crunchy foods.
Ayurveda also agrees that how we prepare our food is just as important as eating it. When we are grateful and give thanks for what’s on our plate, it raises the energy of the food, as does sticking to fresh, seasonal organic foods, which provide us with the most flow of energy, from field to gut.
Following an ayurvedic diet may help promote weight loss, (or undereating!) and garner a balanced state of mind, aiding in the eradication of depression and anxiety.
While we don’t have the room to go into all of the scientific facts and figures here, suffice to say, there’s enough evidence to suggest a much closer look is well worth it – and 5000 years of evidence can’t be wrong!
Rebecca Booker writes for Koster Clinic, she graduated with a Master Degree in Journalism, Media and Communications, and writes for several publications in Australia and abroad. Rebecca also writes about health and well-being including women's health and parenting in the hope that she helps others like her better understand the world around her.
Disclaimer: The above is general advice only and not intended as medical advice. You should not delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment because of information in this article.
More Information than We Know What To Do With!
Every now and then we come across someone who is doing a wonderful job writing a blog and getting plenty of good information out there to those of us studying and practicing yoga. I'll post links here so that you may go take a look too.
YOGA FOR HEALTHY AGING
by Baxter Bell
On this blog, we often address the health benefits of yoga, from its ability to support a generally healthy lifestyle to specific therapeutic benefits that yoga brings to a whole array of injuries, diseases, and conditions. Therefore, how we are using yoga for health benefits can vary tremendously. So I feel it will be helpful to have a clear framework to describe yoga’s various roles in affecting our health. This will give us a better understanding of what yoga actually has the power to do—or not—for different types of conditions.
THE KAPLAN CENTER FOR INTEGRATIVE MEDICINE
Gary Kaplan, D.O. is the founder and medical director of the Kaplan Center for Integrative Medicine and author ofTotal Recovery. A pioneer and leader in the field of integrative medicine, Dr. Kaplan is one of only 19 physicians in the country to be board-certified in both Family Medicine and Pain Medicine. Dr. Kaplan is a Clinical Associate Professor of Family Medicine at Georgetown University School of Medicine and serves on the Advisory Committee to Health and Human Services for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
In this video series, Maria Hepler, Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist, explains the 3 major components of the anti-inflammatory diet: 1) controlling your blood sugar, 2) identifying common food ingredients that may be triggering the inflammatory process in your body, and eliminating them, and 3) adding an abundance of healthy, anti-inflammatory foods into your diet right away in order to stop, and even reverse, the inflammatory process.
Maria’s experience as a dietitian has shown her first-hand how dietary interventions can not only help manage diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis, but even contribute to their going into remission. Learning which foods may be triggering the inflammatory process, and preparing healthy, tasty, and anti-inflammatory dishes can go a long way in managing your chronic pain.
(These recipes – and more – can be found by visiting Maria’s Anti-Inflammatory Kitchen)
You may also want to sign up for the free newsletter from the Kaplan Center on any of the links above.